This Best & Brightest list was created by Denver Public Library librarians to celebrate our favorite recently published children's picture books. Enjoy!
Crown : An Ode To The Fresh Cut
Preschool - 3rd grade. Crown celebrates the transformative power of a great haircut from the community barbershop. Each person who enters the barbershop asks for a different cut and each is given the royal treatment. A black child enters the shop, and sits down “as a lump of clay, a blank canvas, a slab of marble.” However,”when my man is done with you, they’ll want to post you up in a museum.” Derrick Barnes’ text rings with ebullience and wisdom. “...Sometimes in life, that’s all you ever need. A crisp but subtle line.” Gordon C. James captures diverse cuts and precise, recognizable facial expressions in organic, vibrant paintings. This is a top-notch paean to pride, community and joy.
The Wolf, The Duck & The Mouse
Preschool - 3rd grade. The macabre tale of two creatures, a mouse and a duck, who make a life for themselves in the belly of a wolf. Together, the mouse and duck determine to make the best of their dark circumstance. “I may have been swallowed,” says the duck, “but I have no intention of being eaten.” Barnett’s sly wit and Klassen’s coarse, collage-like illustrations lend laugh-out-loud humor to this grim tale. Ultimately, this is the story of three animals-the mouse, the duck and the wolf negotiating their interdependent relationships. Rich storytelling makes this a book to share with readers young and old.
Preschool - 3rd grade. Rodney can’t sit still. He wants to watch the birds, catch the bugs and most of all, he wants to be outside. When his teacher, Miss Garcia, tells the class that they will be going on a field trip to the park, Rodney thinks dismissively of the small patch of grass that is the park that he knows. When the bus takes the class to the wilderness, however, he discovers the “majestic” outdoors. Carmen Bogan’s straightforward, effective text stills when Rodney gets outside. Floyd Cooper’s vigorous illustrations convey Rodney’s moods and motions in all their details. A vivid depiction of one child’s experience mixed with a dose of social commentary.
Grandma's Tiny House : A Counting Story!
Toddler - Kindergarten. Reminiscent of the classic picture book Feast for 10 by Cathryn Falwell, Grandma’s Tiny House tells the story of many people coming together for a large dinner. Counting food and friends from one to 15, friends, uncles, aunts, nieces and nephews all bring delicious food to share - including turkeys, collard greens, honeydew melons and sweet potato pies. Readers can almost smell the aromas wafting from the colorful pages. A diverse set of characters share in this delicious feast that takes place in Grandma’s small house in the city. It is a celebration of family, friends, food and life’s riches that you simply cannot quantify. Grandma’s house may be tiny in size, but it is giant in love.
Walk With Me
Preschool - 3rd grade. The team behind the picture book Two White Rabbits again addresses an experience lived by many children, but not addressed by many authors. A girl, walking home alone through a dangerous city, conjures an immense and gentle lion in her imagination. With the lion as company, she goes through her day until “Mama gets home from the factory.” The illustrations are intricate and the text is sparse, leaving the reader to fill in the blanks of the story with clues in the pictures. A real, but reassuring read for many children in similar circumstances.
Big Cat, Little Cat
Toddler - 1st grade. Two cats and the passage of time. Big Cat, Little Cat follows the friendship of an older cat and a younger cat, their quotidian joys, and the eventual death of the older cat. The two cats’ busy day-to-day activities are depicted in small black-and-white scenes, while two page spreads interspersed throughout the book add color and mark the passage of time. Cooper’s well-chosen words and the calligraphic lines of his illustrations make this a poignant, minimalist exploration of the rhythms of life and death.
Wolf In The Snow
Preschool - 3rd grade. A fair skinned girl in a red coat trudges through snow on the way home from school. Meanwhile, a wolf cub becomes separated from its fearsome family in a blizzard. The girl finds the baby wolf lost and alone. They are two separate species, with many reasons to fear one another. What will they do? Cordell’s pen and ink with watercolor illustrations convey rich emotion--fear, worry, frustration, empathy. The almost wordless, onomatopoeic text plunges the reader into a snowy world in which sounds crack the silence. This book welcomes multiple readings to plumb the complexity that lies beneath the surface.
Preschool - 3rd grade. Echoes of the beloved picture book, The Snowy Day by Ezra Jack Keats ring throughout this story of a child and a dog wandering a city neighborhood as dusk falls. City windows are alive with people of all kinds doing a wide variety of things, no two exactly alike. Readers will recognize familiar faces and stories told by the snippets of life visible in these illuminated spaces. The end papers fill out the story by bringing the reader from day to night with a dusky journey filling the spaces between. Rich, colorful illustrations bring this urban world to abundant life from beginning to end.
The One Day House
Preschool - 2nd grade. Wilson, a brown skinned boy, loves his elder friend Gigi and wants more than anything to be able to fix up her house “one day” so that she can enjoy her life the way that she wants. Wilson tells Gigi his plans to fix up her house as the book progresses and each time he does, Gigi reminds him that, although the plans sound nice, his friendship is more important than a fancy house. Wilson continues to plan and he brings their neighborhood together to help. The community effort to fix up Gigi’s house demonstrates just how powerful the goodwill of friends and neighbors can be. The collage-style illustrations interspersed with children’s drawings bring the story to life for readers who will easily imagine doing something kind for a loved one of their own.
All The Way To Havana
Preschool - 3rd grade. All the Way to Havana brings the sights and sounds of Cuba to life for young readers. A boy and his parents drive into the city to celebrate the boy’s new baby cousin. They ride in Cara-Cara, the “peacefully blue” family car, which “chatters like a busy chicken.” Curato’s pencil and digital illustrations convey color and calm, while Engle’s onomatopoeia-filled text is rich with detail. A compelling and illuminating take on a transportation-themed book. The feel of Havana is captured throughout in text.
Little Fox In The Forest
Kindergarten - 3rd grade. In this wordless ode to exploration and empathy, a young girl ventures into the forest in search of her missing stuffed fox. It’s been absconded with by a living fox in a yellow sweater. The pencil, watercolor and ink illustrations are in muted blues until the girl, still following the fox, bursts into a forest wonderland, rendered in a bright, full palette. When the girl and fox finally meet, a lesson on understanding ensues. Little Fox in the Forest is a book of whimsy and wonder that offers a window into the needs of others.
Toddler - 2nd grade. So much is told with very few words in this book. Henkes’ recognizable style is presented in the style of a graphic novel. Bold images tell a heartfelt, sweet story about friendship and acceptance. The colors in the book are carefully selected pastels, iconic of springtime. Readers will observe narrative patterns and use those patterns to predict what may happen as pages progress. The open-ended finale will inspire discussion, encouraging the sharing of words despite the minimal words in the book itself. This is a lovely book to read aloud.
A Different Pond
2nd - 5th grade. A father and son wake early to go fishing. They get ready before dawn in a comfortable home that shows the trappings of economic austerity--a bare bulb and simple furnishings. Father and son set their line early to catch fish for dinner before the dad has to go to work. While they fish, the dad tells the boy tales of childhood fishing in a different pond, this one in Vietnam. There is a note of sadness, an acknowledgment of war and loss, then fishing success! A Different Pond tenderly portrays a common story-the loving relationship of a boy and his father--while grounding the portrait in the precise circumstances of this refugee family making ends meet together. Thi Bui’s saturated illustrations capture precise moments in panels and sumptuous color.
Niko Draws A Feeling
Kindergarten - 3rd grade. Niko loves to draw the world around him. But the things he draws are not always what people expect. He doesn’t draw the ice cream truck, he draws the truck’s “ring-a-ling.” Even his parents do not understand his creations. Niko worries that nobody will ever understand him or his art until he meets the girl next door, who understands and is moved by Niko’s art. Raczka and Shin dexterously illuminate the struggles of a young conceptual artist. A beautiful story about a child’s unique vision, the power of imagination and finding someone who understands the way you think.
After The Fall : How Humpty Dumpty Got Back Up Again
Preschool - 3rd grade. Dan Santat, who won the Caldecott Medal for The Adventures of Beekle, does it again. Humpty Dumpty has fallen off the wall and is now scared of heights, even his own bunk bed. He seems destined to live a sad life without seeing over his beloved wall. In this singularly inspiring story, Humpty Dumpty must overcome his fears to emerge as a stronger version of himself. Children will empathize with this tale of triumph over hurt and fear. Part fractured nursery rhyme, part redemption story, readers of all ages will find something to enjoy about this tale.
Town Is By The Sea
Kindergarten - 5th grade. A young boy makes his way through a summer day, lunching on a bologna sandwich, then visiting his grandfather’s grave. All the while, he thinks of his father, working in a coal mine under the sea. A vivid, episodic depiction of a particular time and place--the coal mines of Nova Scotia during the 1950s. Dreamy pacing and sunshiny illustrations are contrasted by the heavy black outlines on the pictures and the spreading darkness in shadows. Eventually, in a two page spread that depicts the coal mine, the black takes over the page. An author’s note at the end adds the context, “boys of high-school age...continued to see their future working in the mines.”
Kindergarten - 3rd grade. Life for a busy single mother and daughter can be hectic, especially as the school year draws to a close. Written entirely in messages written from one to the other, this book has an unconventional approach to the regular communication between family members. Summer camp is around the corner, and as apprehension builds for the daughter, the reader empathizes with her feelings. Beautiful watercolor illustrations add to the nostalgia felt by each of the characters in this story. Though mother and child are both busy, their love is strong.
Toddler - 3rd grade. Roundness is everywhere! From the smallest egg or seed to the largest star, the universe is comprised of myriad round things. As the protagonist of this story observes the world around her, she notices round objects in a variety of places. Some round things are ephemeral while others are more permanent. The mixed media illustrations provide a soft texture to this world full of round things, and color permeates each image. The story is conducive to enjoyment by readers across a spread of ages, from those just beginning to recognize circles to those who are ready to investigate not only which things are round, but why they might be round. This is a terrific first look at sophisticated scientific ideas.
Preschool - 3rd grade. The ticklishly funny tale of a dead goldfish and the search for friendship. Goldfish Ghost is born when a goldfish dies “on the surface of the water in a bowl on the dresser in a boy’s room.” Upside down and rendered in black and white, Goldfish Ghost floats forth from the room in search of company. A surprisingly light tale of death, culminating when Goldfish Ghost finds a friend in the ghost of a cheerful lighthouse keeper. Brown’s line and watercolor art provide satisfying details and Snicket’s understated humor keeps things moving along. This book has charm galore.
Blue Vs. Yellow
Toddler - 2nd grade. Blue and Yellow are competing to determine which color is better. Blue shows off some important things that are the color blue and Yellow shows off important things that are yellow. When they get overexcited, they crash into each other and become green. Through crisp, stylish illustrations, Blue vs. Yellow raises ideas about similarities, differences and how when you work together, good can arise. Fans of Red: A Crayon’s Story will enjoy the vibrant personalities in this tale of color rivalry.